The Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez stretching before a game with the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The series was moved from Houston because of Hurricane Harvey.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — More than a thousand miles from home, the Houston Astros arrived here to play a baseball game Tuesday night in a largely empty stadium against their in-state rivals, but it was hard for many to think of their circumstances.
For the most part, their heads were turned to their phones or the clubhouse televisions, and their minds were back home in Houston, where the city and surrounding areas were struggling with the overwhelming impact of Hurricane Harvey.
“I’m still thinking of friend’s stories when they’re rescuing babies and kids, and people in trees and people swimming across streets that they normally walk across,” Astros Manager A. J. Hinch said. “We’re talking about a baseball game. We have the easy job.”
There was a lot for the Astros — and, for sure, some members of the opposing team, the Texas Rangers — to wrap their heads around as they went back to the business of baseball with the start of a three-game series that was moved here Monday by Major League Baseball.
Some Astros players have family members who are stranded in the Houston area — and pitcher Francisco Liriano’s house has sustained extensive flooding damage — and few have been unaffected by the devastation that has been wrought by torrential rain.
When the Astros left Houston last Thursday for a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels, they packed just for the weekend, assuming that even though a storm was coming, they would be able to return home once the series in California ended on Sunday.
But with Houston’s two major airports closed because of flooding, the Astros were diverted to Dallas, where they learned on Monday that their series with the Rangers — scheduled to be played at Minute Maid Park in Houston — would be played here instead.
“It’s going to be kind of weird,” Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. “Never in a million years would I have thought that we’d be playing outside of Minute Maid Park, where we have a retractable roof for that very reason, which means that the flooding has been almost biblical.”
There is uncertainty about when the Astros will return home. Hinch said the team should learn Wednesday whether the Astros’ series against the Mets, scheduled to begin Friday in Houston, will also be held at Tropicana Field. He said the team cannot consider returning home until the rain in Houston stops.
The Astros, as the home team here, chose the visitors’ clubhouse because it was most familiar to them. The only uniforms they had with them were their gray road pants and their alternate blue jerseys, which they wear for batting practice on the road and at home.
But those inconveniences were considered just that as the Astros remained focused on some of the images from recent days: an older woman knitting in a wheelchair with water up to her chest, an exhausted police officer wading his way toward stranded people, airport runways underwater.
Hinch said friends of his had bought a boat and were rescuing people from trees near a golf course in his neighborhood.
“They’re friends, trying to do something good,” Hinch said. “To be honest with you, I wish I was one of those people. I wish I could help somebody right now.”
Rangers Manager Jeff Banister, who grew up in LaMarque, Tex., just south of Houston, said that he hoped that the teams — who have developed a fierce rivalry in recent years — would use the games here to play for people who have been affected by the flooding.
“When you get right down to it, what we do, we’re privileged to be able to do this, and when real life punches you in the mouth, you take notice and this becomes a distraction for that,” Banister said.
He added, “I hope our guys have enough respect that the effort is where it needs to be and appropriate, because I would hate for us to think that this is, ‘well, we’ll just go through another day,’ because those people aren’t just having another day.”